The Magic of Dandelions and Children

It is a sad fact, sometimes, that when a thing is common and we see it everywhere, we take it for granted.   When there are too many of pretty much anything, we tend to take them for granted and consider them less than first class.

Our overcrowded classrooms are the most extreme example of this that I can think of.  It’s easy to look at that classroom and overlook the fact that it is full of individuals each of which is unique and wonderfully made and equally worthy of time and attention.  It’s a lot easier just to say that there are too many students in there and that we need to get rid of some of them and keep only the ones that meet our specifications and preferences.

On a less serious note, I’ve never understood why people will pay out the wazoo for lovely nursery-bred flowers to plant and then pay out the wazoo again for someone to kill the lovely golden blossoms that are already growing.

The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .
The blossoms are lovely, and sprinkled over the lawn like stars in the night sky. . . .

Is it because dandelions are so common, and grow so easily, that we take them for granted and prefer flowers that really aren’t all that much prettier but which are harder to grow, expensive, and a bit less common?  If dandelions weren’t sprinkled everywhere, turning plain green lawns into starry universes, common, easy, beloved by children, would they be more popular?

If we examine each individual child  flower, we will see that it is wondrously made, unique, adds to the quality of the universe, and is worthy of cultivation and attention.

How could any florist’s creation rival the paper cup with a few short-stemmed dandelions stuffed into it?

I think this is absolutely beautiful.
I think this is absolutely beautiful.

How could any expensive centerpiece be more wonderful than a cereal bowl full of floating dandelion blossoms?

These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.
These were on almost every surface in the house when the kids were little.

Even after “death,” dandelions are awesome.  Those white fuzzy “clocks” will tell a child the time, according to the number of breaths it takes to blow all the fuzz away.  FAIRIES love to ride on the soft, fluffy achenes, granting wishes right and left.  Every child knows – at least the children who are privileged to have dandelions at their fingertips – that if they can blow ALL the achenes off with one breath, the wish will come true.

This is a dandelion clock.
This is a dandelion clock.

How sad, to be a child without dandelions on the lawn, to have nothing but plain green landscaping that he can’t even play on because of all the chemicals. . . to have nothing near his home except expensive blossoms he’s forbidden to pick.  How sad the house containing children but no paper cups of short-stemmed dandelions all over the table and countertops.  My heart breaks over the thought of children living in a house where blowing dandelion clocks is forbidden lest the seeds take root and ruin the “look.”  No wishes or fairies dare come near such a domicile.  There’s a big difference between a house and a home, and to people like me, who believe firmly in fairies, wishes, and stubby little bouquets in paper cups and cereal bowls, a house has a green, chemically-treated velvety lawn, and a home has grass, sprinkled with tiny golden stars.  And, if the children are especially lucky, lots of little purple violets as well.

Little purple violets in the grass. . . .
Little purple violets in the grass. . . .

I believe that dandelions are flowers, in the same way that those expensive hybrid roses are flowers, and every bit as beautiful, especially when they’re thrust in our faces by a grubby little child to be put in a paper cup and placed where everybody can see and admire them.

The medicinal, culinary, and other practical uses of dandelions cannot be denied, either, but that’s a topic for another time.

Dandelions represent summer, and childhood, and the love of a little girl or boy for a parent, and a Dixie cup of stubby dandelions means more to me than anything delivered by a florist’s truck.  When I see a lawn sprinkled with dandelions, I see a home peopled by parents who believe a little child’s wishes are more important than a velvety lawn sprayed with chemicals.

Put that paper cup of stubby dandelions on the coffee table between two cereal bowls full of floating violets and dandelion heads and House Beautiful can go blow.  I prefer the individual touch when it come to home decor.

I also welcome the fairies.  So should you.  Heaven knows we all need all the wishes we can get.

Don't deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks.  It's more important than a green lawn.
Don’t deny your kids the privilege of making wishes on dandelion clocks. It’s more important than a green lawn.

What’s that?  A lawn full of dandelions and violets would attract too many bees, and you’re afraid of bees?


Will Wheaton Anti-Bullying Message is Right On

This video is a few years old, but we thought it needed to be shared. Again. Wil Wheaton was in Denver at Comic Con and was asked if he was bullied as a child and what he did to deal. The question came from a young girl in the audience. His anti-bullying message was spot on.

Wil Wheaton at Denver Comic Con 2013 From CGPhotogcom

When a person makes fun of you or when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you. It’s about them feeling bad about themselves. It’s about them feeling sad,” Wheaton explains.

Every parent and every child should watch this video. When we all understand where bullying comes from and how to defeat it, maybe then it will disappear from our culture.

There’s 50,000 people here this weekend who went through the exact same thing and we are all doing really well.

“Don’t you ever let a person make you feel bad because you love something that they decided was only for nerds,” he ended with. “Your loving things for you.”


The Science of the Musical Fruit (Beans)

I confess;  I often hesitate to fix and serve any kind of beans to my family because. . . well, you know why.

The more you eat, the more you . . . you know the rest.
The more you eat, the more you . . . okay,  you know the rest.

There are all kinds of jokes about, well, “this,” but what many people don’t realize is that there’s a reason why beans are so, um, chatty.  It’s science.  It’s biology.  And chemistry.

It doesn’t matter what kind of beans you’ve consumed, either.  There are many types of beans and they’re all guilty.

See?  Many different kinds of beans!
See? Many different kinds of beans!

But, guilty of what, you might ask?  You know the answer to that, but WHY do beans make us musical?  THAT’S the science of it.

Beans are carbs, and carbs are sugars.   The specific sugars in beans are called oligosaccharides, and there are several different kinds, all of them difficult.   Bean sugars are different from most other sugars because bean sugars are BIG.  They’re bulky.  Most people’s small intestines just can’t break these sugars down the way they can easily bully the sugar in that candy bar, so these bulky sugars usually make it through the small intestine intact.

That means that when they pass into the large intestine, the bacteria that live there (nearly a thousand different kinds!)  take a look at all those chewed-up oligasaccharides and do a group attack on them.  All those different kinds of bacteria devouring the almost intact evidence of your dinner is a pretty intense activity, and it produces gases, all kinds of gases, two of which are hydrogen and methane.  The methane is what produces most of the odors, pushed out by the hydrogen.   If you had some eggs along with the beans, the atmospheric results are even more pungent.

No baked beans left in the dish.  That means some pretty pungent activity later tonight.  I might need to go shopping then.
No baked beans left in the dish. That means some pretty pungent activity later tonight. I might need to go shopping then.

Don’t forgo beans entirely; they’re an excellent source of protein.  I would not, however, advise you to eat them before a date or any kind of important business or social function.  If you really have a problem with beans, there are several excellent products on the market that break down the oligosaccharides before they get to your large intestine.  These products are usually made of molds and fungi; hey, don’t knock it.  They work.  Soaking the beans in plain water for several hours before you cook them helps, too.  Soaking the beans releases yeast, and this yeast can eat the oligosaccharides before they have a chance to, well, light up the room.

People eat beans for many reasons, two of which are:  They’re good, and they’re cheap.  Poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote a poem called The Bean Eaters,  about two old people who ate beans because they were poor, but who still had their memories:

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering. . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twingers,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
Is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
Tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

Painter Annibale Carracci painted a picture called The Bean Eater, which illustrates a similar point.

The Bean Eaters, by Annibale Carracci
The Bean Eaters, by Annibale Carracci

Did you ever even imagine that this topic was not only chemical, and biological, but also poetic, and artistic?  Well, most things are.  Nothing is just one thing.  Everything is a part of everything else.

Now, what’s for dinner?  What’s that?  Green beans?  They’re guilty, too.

They don't look like beans on the outside; the beans are on the INSIDE.
They don’t look like beans on the outside; the beans are on the INSIDE.

So what’s a person to do?  Beans are delicious!  The after-effects, while annoying and smelly, are pretty harmless.

Unless you’re one of those people who does experiments with, um, personal emissions and a lighter.  THEN you’ll have some interesting times.  Be sure to have 911 on speed dial if you’ve got a  pyroflatulence guy in the house.

In the meantime, what’s a picnic without baked beans?  Throw some ribs on the grill and make sure the Febreze is handy.


Science and Cupcakes

I wonder sometimes if people realize the incredible wonder of everyday science. . . . .  things we do every day, things we see, things we touch, things we eat. . . . you know, like cupcakes.

Cupcakes are science.  Without science there would be no cupcakes.  Imagine a world without cupcakes.  It would be bleak.  We need science so we can have cupcakes.

Without science, there would be no cupcakes.
Without science, there would be no cupcakes.

Cupcakes are not a single entity, you know.  Cupcakes are a combination of several things, and it is the combination that creates cupcakes.  It’s chemistry.  Kitchen science is chemistry.  It’s other kinds of sciences as well, but it’s mostly chemistry.

In a lab, we add different things together to create reactions, and to create new things which would not exist were it not for the COMBINATION of various other things.

Before you begin this experiment, you need to anticipate the receptacle that will induce the chemical reaction needed.  For this experiment, you need to preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  And then you need to begin mixing the single ingredients together to create a new whole.

With cupcakes, we need flour.  Three cups of flour.

Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.
Three cups of white flour are needed for this experiment.

Put the flour in a  medium-size bowl.  Kitchen science – chemistry – requires specific kinds of containers; test tubes are too small, so you’ll need a couple of bowls.  You’ll also need a cupcake pan and some paper liners.

In that medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and salt.  They’re chemicals, too.

Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride.  Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.
Salt is, chemically, a combination of sodium and chloride. Baking powder is a combination of saleratus and cream of tartar.

Ma Ingalls, in The Long Winter, was glad to finally, after months of near starvation, get some supplies that enabled her to cook good meals once again.  Now that I have cream of tartar and plenty of saleratus, I shall make a cake.”   Which is what we’re doing right now, only we’re putting the batter in cupcake pans, and we don’t have to make our own baking powder, which is what Ma was doing with the saleratus and cream of tartar.

In a separate, larger bowl, cream the butter. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy.  (Creaming, in kitchen science, means softening and blending things with the curved side of a large spoon.  You can also do this with a mixer, but that’s not as much fun.) Add the eggs to this bowl.  Blend thoroughly.

eggs, butter, sugar

Add the milk and vanilla to the mixture in the large bowl.  We use vanilla extract in baking, but let’s not forget where that vanilla extract comes from.

See that orchid?  That's where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn't it; almost like a. . . . flower.
See that orchid? That’s where vanilla comes from. It smells wonderful, doesn’t it; almost like a. . . . flower.

Blend the vanilla and milk with the mixture in the large bowl; be sure you mix the ingredients thoroughly.  Proper mixing is important in chemistry.

Now start adding the dry ingredients to the mixture in the big bowl.  Add them a little at a time, blending well between additions.  When all the dry ingredients are added, start beating the batter with a large spoon or a mixer.    For good cake/cupcakes, the chemistry of the ingredients must be blended thoroughly and smoothly.

Pour the batter into your cupcake pans, put the pans into the oven, and bake for 15-20 minutes.  The heat will create a reaction that will turn all those ingredients you mixed together into. . . . cake.  After 15 minutes, check for doneness; there are several ways to check.  When the cupcakes look done and spring back when you tap them with your finger, or when an inserted toothpick comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.  Remove them from the oven and let them cool.

Cupcakes.  All those ingredients turned into cupcakes.  Kitchen science.
Cupcakes. All those ingredients turned into cupcakes. Kitchen science.

Put some icing on them if you like icing.  Icing is kitchen science, too, but for now, we’ll let you wonder about that one as you devour your cupcakes.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody talk about leftover cupcakes.



Corms, Bulbs, and Spring Flowers

Whenever the season changes, my mind’s eye starts picturing an all-new panorama of plants and flowers growing “out there.”

In the fall, I picture pumpkins and Indian Corn and apples.  Winter means squashes and root vegetables and evergreens.  Summer is a rainbow of multicolored flowers and vegetables.  But spring. . . . spring is the beginning of all of these.   Every season’s traditional flowers and vegetables begin in the spring.

One of the first spring flowers to appear is the crocus – my favorite flower, by the way.  Crocuses symbolize hope.  Crocuses can poke up through the snow and bloom in spite of winter’s best efforts.

crocus in the snow
A little snow can’t stop me. Neither can a lot of snow. I’ll appear when I’m good and ready.

A long time ago, spring-flowering bulbs were horrifically expensive – hundreds of dollars for a single bulb!  Nowadays, you can buy 50 crocus bulbs for less than ten dollars!  Spring bulbs are a fantastic bargain, in fact; you’ll pay for them once, and they’ll come back year after year in even greater quantities, for they replicate themselves underground quickly.  After just a few seasons, you’ll have three or four times the number of flowers than you planted!

Crocus bulbs are called “corms,” and they are planted flat-side-down and pointy-side-up.  If you reverse that, they might not grow at all.    Plant the corms in bunches for the best effect, although many people like to plant a single corm here and there just for the beauty of a single blossom in the midst of a lawn or field.  Your call.

Plant the corms flat-side-down and pointy-side up.
Plant the corms flat-side-down and pointy-side up.

It’s a good idea to wear gloves when gardening; you never know when a sharp stone or sliver of glass or vicious biting reptile* might be lurking in the soil.

crocus planting
Flat side down, pointed side up, and in groups for a beautiful effect.

Leave a few inches around each corm.  Remember, each corm will replicate itself many times over as the years go by.

Crocuses are ideal for planting all over a lawn or even on a gravesite as the blossoms are gone before it’s mowing time.  Plant the corms several inches deep.  Oh, and don’t mow until the flower’s leaves are well wilted; the leaves of most flowers live on, after the blossoms die, and letting the leaves alone until they wilt puts nutrients back into the flower for next year.

Item:  Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, comes from crocus stigmas, the yellow pollen-covered thready things growing out of the center of the flower.

saffron, crocus stigmas


There’s a lot of science connected to the planting and growing and blossoming of spring bulbs that are sown in the fall.  The bulbs need the dormancy of cold winter weather before they can come to life in the spring.  You can’t plant a crocus bulb in April.  Well, you CAN, but you won’t get a flower out of it.

You might even notice several separate little sprouts growing out of one corm.  Each of those will become a flower, so don’t cut them off!

multi-sprouted corm

To sum up:  plant crocus bulbs/corms anywhere from October – December, and start watching for the beautiful star-like blossoms around March.   If squirrels eat your bulbs, plant again next fall and put a layer of mulch over the bulb bed.  Sometimes the squirrels like to feast on corms and sometimes the squirrels let the corms alone.

Don’t plant bulbs where the ground holds water; the bulbs will rot.  The purple shades tend to be hardier than the white or gold blossoms, but if you mix the colors up the effect is a lot prettier.  Crocuses grow well on hillsides, and while they will grow in the shade, you’ll get more, larger, and healthier flowers if you plant them in the sun.

As with all flowers, vegetables, and plants in general, you’ll get better results if you place a pinch of Water Gel crystals beneath each seed, bulb, or bedding plant.  The polymers will expand when the plants are watered, and they will keep the plants hydrated.  Gardening with Water Gel Crystals is easy, and you’ll get healthier results!

Water Gel polymer crystals are widely used in such applications as forestry, gardening, and landscaping as a means of conserving water
Water Gel polymer crystals are widely used in such applications as forestry, gardening, and landscaping as a means of conserving water.

Besides turning into beautiful flowers, planting bulbs in the fall that you won’t see any results from until spring teaches us patience.  If you have children, this is an especially important lesson – for them, AND for you.

*Just kidding about the vicious biting reptile.  Then again, I really don’t know what kind of animals lurk in your neighborhood. . . .